All we have to do is care

«What do you care? When others are filling their swimming pools, you think you’re saving water by letting your plants go dry?» The gardener’s remarks stunned me. I tried to say something about individual responsibility, about how we are running out of time to make a change, but he had already grabbed the hose and was watering my decidedly dejected plants with gusto. On April 20, The New York Times published an article titled «Why Bother?» by Michael Pollan, on the subject of climate change and the contribution that each individual can make toward conserving energy. What will individuals have to show for all their trouble? asks Pollan. He wonders: «A sense of personal virtue, you might suggest, somewhat sheepishly. But what good is that when virtue itself is quickly becoming a term of derision?» So, OK. Let’s replace our light bulbs, switch off unnecessary lights, plant vegetables on our verandas, take recycling more seriously… The list of what we can do is endless – tiny little things that may cramp our consumer style, but when added up can make a real difference. This, more or less, was what Al Gore was trying to say in his documentary «An Inconvenient Truth.» But, it was not Al Gore’s documentary or the desperate look in the eyes of a young Indian girl who turns on the tap and realizes it has run dry (in Irena Salina’s «Flow: For Love of Water») that made me take the water conservation drive seriously. It was the despair in the voices of the scientists, the real fear they try to put across at every given opportunity. There are thousands of excuses people can come up with to avoid doing their share for the environment. They turn a deaf ear to the (now) steady flow of information and warnings, ignore pleas to use water sparingly and continue washing their cars with the garden hose, blissfully washing down the pavement outside their homes to eradicate away any trace of dust and leave their taps running simply because they want to. Legal interventions and the threat of rising utility costs are not enough to curb this kind of behavior. «Why?» asks Pollan. «Because the climate change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle – of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences.» When someone asks «What do you care?» there is only one answer. Only a chain reaction of changes of behavior, a new «alternative» ethic – so derided by some of our neighbors – may or may not save our planet. At the very least, it will redefine our identities. It may turn us from consumers into citizens. How? All we have to do is care.